Could Kolten Wong Be a Fit for the Twins?
Image courtesy of © Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsKolten Wong, 30, has won the Fielding Bible Award at the keystone for three consecutive seasons. Handed out by a panel of experts to just one player per position each year, the Fielding Bible Awards are both more rigorous and more exclusive than the Gold Gloves. Wong is really that good afield, and that sets a very high floor for his overall value.
Though he’s a slightly below-average hitter, with good contact skills but no reliable power, Wong has been worth 6.8 WARP since the start of 2018, according to Baseball Prospectus. That’s a good number even in a vacuum, but becomes doubly impressive when one accounts for the fact that he’s averaged fewer than 400 plate appearances per season over that stretch. (Obviously, the pandemic has quite a bit to do with that, but it’s not the only factor.)
For all the things they do well, the Cardinals do not currently excel at developing hitters once they reach the big-league level, and Wong stalled out a bit, especially in 2020. He’s a patient hitter with a good pure hit tool, though, which leads to plenty of walks and a strikeout rate about a third lower than the league average. He is, in short, a poor man’s Luis Arraez at the plate, while (unlike the injury-prone, somewhat heavy-footed Arraez) he adds gobs of value with his glove.
That’s notable, because in a recent conversation with KSTP’s Darren Wolfson, Twins GM Thad Levine did not commit to Arraez as the team’s incumbent second baseman. On the contrary, he named only Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton as locked into their positions come Opening Day, and specifically made mention of the fact that Arraez played other positions as a rookie in 2019. It seems as though the team would at least consider sliding Arraez out to left field, if not trying other positions, if the right opportunity presented itself.
Wong is that kind of opportunity, packed into a five-foot-seven frame with untapped offensive potential. Even if he never realized that potential, adding him to the infield would eliminate the team’s need to jostle with other suitors for the three starting-caliber shortstops on the free-agent market, or to trade major prospect capital to land Trevor Story or Javier Báez. With Donaldson and Wong flanking Jorge Polanco, and the Twins already committed to defensive shifts, there would be no need to displace Polanco, at least until Royce Lewis is ready to take over the position.
No true second baseman can match Wong’s range, and he has a plus throwing arm for the position. He has never played shortstop in the big leagues, and would be a bit stretched in regular action there, but he could certainly fill in, and in the meantime, he turns the entire area to the right of second base into a desert where ground-ball hits go to die. He makes dazzling plays going far toward the first-base line, and some on the other side of second base, altogether. His range, like that of Donaldson, could not only save runs in and of itself, but make the team better by taking pressure off the defender next to him. In Wong’s case, that would mean not only Polanco, but Miguel Sanó, at first base.
For now, Arraez is a better hitter, though again, Wong’s swing has always shown the possibility of more power than he has consistently found, and the Twins might be able to unlock that in a way that his former team couldn’t. If that happened, Wong would be an All-Star, and Arraez would become happily redundant. In the meantime, having Arraez available to play left field would lower the stakes of Alex Kirilloff’s introduction to the lineup. If the Twins don’t re-sign Nelson Cruz, Arraez could be a solid (if unconventional) designated hitter, and of course, the team could rotate him in at second base to keep Wong fresh, too.
It’s not the way we might have expected the Twins to find the greatest possible value on this winter’s market for infield talent, but Wong could be a multiyear solution and a force multiplier for the team’s run prevention, in addition to providing more speed and some upside toward the bottom of the batting order. If (as expected) he’s a cheaper option than Marcus Semien or Didi Gregorius, he should stay very much on the Twins’ radar.
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